December 1, 2013

Our Kind of Writing

Dear M,

A couple of days ago, I was watching Poirot, the series, on TV. It took me back by several years. I don't think I have read an Agatha Christie in the last ten years - except, maybe once, while I was travelling. Yet I was very fond of those at one time.

I can't even watch a good program in peace without going back to writing. I was thinking about her style. Very definite, very focussed and purposeful. Detective, criminal, investigation stuff, but not quite like Sherlock Holmes. Even in the same genre, there are such differences in the presentation. And there is so much going on, very curious and strange incidents, that she does not linger to describe the English landscape more than is necessary to the plot. She does not want to overly develop her characters or create sub-plots that have no significance to the story. Every word, every gesture, every action has a reason behind it that is relevant to the story, and either the person performing it has innocent motives or guilty ones. Sometimes he is partially guilty without knowing it, sometimes his emotions have driven him to extremes and stopped just short of committing the crime. All the while, the reader is trying to guess who the actual criminal could be, and what his motives could be. True Agatha Christie fans know that the criminal will be the one whom you suspect the least.

No one is going to accuse Agatha Christie of not developing her characters or putting in more history than is necessary. No one is going to say, her books lack sub-plots. Her books have a purpose and a direction. Possibly it is not the kind of book you want to read. Possibly it is not the kind of book you want to write.

It's important to recognise what kind of book we want to write. It's not easy. But it will come to us. I am not talking about the genre. An author can write in multiple genres, of course. I am talking about styles. Our style is something we develop. If it is flawed, we could learn how to fix it. We could identify the areas were we need to focus and work on. And then we will know how to change, and come up with something new and exciting. What is it that we want? Do we want to write something hilarious that people can read in one hour? Or something deep and dark and frightening that people are terrified to touch (but touch nonetheless)? Or something emotional and romantic and mushy? Or very profound, thought-provoking stuff that one cannot finish in a quick flight? Or a balanced mix of these?

The first draft of my book very often does not look like the kind of book I want to write. One was irritatingly similar to a book I disliked. The fact that I recognised it was the first step to fixing it. I had to spent several deeply frustrating weeks before I came up with a plan to improve it.

And consciously or unconsciously, I have begun to move towards certain authors whom I would wish to be compared to.


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